To the Friends Who Stayed (and Left) When I Was Diagnosed With MS
There is a lot to be said for romantic relationships where a partner “stays,” despite the other partner becoming or revealing to be chronically ill. In sickness and in health. For better and for worse.
Today, though, I find myself thankful for the friends I’ve had in my life who have remained, despite the long and rocky diagnosis to multiple sclerosis (MS), the new friends I have made, and even the ones I have lost.
You stayed. Even when our friendship wasn’t fun. When it wasn’t pretty. When it was hurtful and full of pitfalls. When you lost more than you ever gained.
You stayed when I refused to talk about it, and you were there when I was ready to. You let me cry for a week when I could no longer lift my pinky finger, and a year later when I couldn’t use my ring finger anymore. You stayed when I couldn’t eat what you were eating, or stay out late, or when I missed your birthday party.
You offered to bring me soup or take me to an appointment, or even just to go with me if I wanted company at my infusion or MRI, even though they wouldn’t let you in the room.
You sent me a funny book so I would laugh. You sent me a sad book so I wouldn’t feel alone. You sent me a children’s book so I’d remember who I was. You sent me a CD when I couldn’t see to read, but could still listen and wanted a voice in the dark.
You dropped me off at the front door because it was hot outside but didn’t say a word. You laughed at my really bad brain degeneration jokes. You didn’t ask to use my disability parking pass to beat the holiday shopping crowd. You didn’t comment that you can’t read my handwriting anymore.
You didn’t groan when I needed to go take a nap. Or laugh when I lost my balance. You sent a text reminding me I’m still in the fight, even if all I’m doing is breathing. You didn’t ask why I can’t come this weekend. You didn’t pick on me for wearing a dress because you know waistbands can trigger spasms and pain. You remembered low heels can balance out my stilted gait.
You told me to take care of myself. You didn’t let me call myself a loser. Or broken. Or not enough.
I know I get irritable. I know I shut down and close off. I know I’m stubborn. I know I get over-emotional, sometimes angry and downright obnoxious. I get fussy and anxious and at times, ready to give up.
But you all stayed.
To those who left, there are times I miss you. I miss when we were normal friends going to coffee and laughing about work or family or pets or the weekend. When I sit by myself in yet another dimly-lit waiting room, I’ll sometimes see two girls walking by, giggling and clearly on their way to get lunch together. That used to be us. And I miss with an ache the days when it was. When I was normal, like you. But I am grateful to have had those times at all. I am grateful I ever had you.
I know it’s hard to see me fade. I don’t want to be a burden. I know it must hurt, that I will never get better. I know I’m not much fun anymore and I tend to need a lot of accommodations. I cancel quite a bit. I don’t know how I’ll feel day to day, or even hour to hour sometimes.
There’s no tiara with this disease, despite that I sometimes have to act like a princess. There is no glory, no reigning moment where all of this journey will result in a white stallion and an ivy-covered kingdom and a happy ending.
I’d like to think that is what you wanted for me. For us. That it pains you to stay and see life evolve into something entirely different. Something not so glamorous or typical.
To the dates who found out I have MS and never called me back. Not even to be a friend. I get it. This isn’t for everyone. And your silence speaks volumes.
I’ll miss you, all of you, but only for awhile. I have my own happy ending. With some really amazing friends and family who never left. With some new friends who came even when it was awkward and strange and they’d never known anyone with MS but learned and stayed anyway. They even offered to hang out or pick me up or bring dinner. They let me give what I can give, and are nice when I disappear for awhile.
I hope I am a fraction as good of a friend back to you all. You’ve given me a second home to go to, someone to write to and laugh with, someone to take walks with and get ice cream together. Someone I can share books and movies with and someone I can share clothes and make-up tips with. Someone who lets me hug their dog or cat when I need fuzzy therapy. You’ve all contributed to a life I look forward to every day. To new adventures, movies, dinners or even just texting back and forth or sitting quietly when the sun goes down on another day.
Life is quirky and funny, ugly and beautiful, full of loss so great you’ll agonize you ever had it in the first place, then be so happy you ever were blessed to know it.
Life will break your heart.
Friends will keep it together with you.
Sincerely and with love,
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